With Ryder Cup pressure on, Fowler steps up in Rd. 1

By Will GrayAugust 25, 2016, 8:20 pm

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – At this point, there’s no sense in beating around the bush.

Rickie Fowler came to The Barclays knowing full well that it was time to deliver. Long viewed as one of the faces of American golf, his Ryder Cup chances stood in peril heading into the final week of automatic qualification, the unexpected byproduct of a disappointing summer.

It’s a daunting task, knowing that a two-year window comes down to your performance over a handful of weeks. It’s the type of pressure that has caused players in the past to crumble, and will undoubtedly be the undoing of would-be stars in the future.

For Fowler, though, the raised stakes may have been just what he needed to kick-start his stagnant game.

“I don’t mind it,” Fowler said. “I’ve always liked kind of being put up against the wall, in a corner, and having that on me.”

The wall and the corner are both very much in sight after a stretch that has included only one top-10 finish in the last nine starts for Fowler. Viewed as a lock for Hazeltine only a few months ago, he entered this week at No. 12 in the American standings - on the outside looking in - and likely relying on a pick next month from Davis Love III to make the team.

Fowler even added last week’s Wyndham Championship in a last-ditch effort to move up the standings, but a T-22 finish didn’t do the trick.

So he came to Bethpage Black needing to turn things around in a hurry, and he promptly delivered a 4-under 67 that put him within a shot of the early lead. After the round, Fowler stepped to the microphone and answered a series of questions that began, predictably, with the Ryder Cup.

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“That’s the No. 1 priority coming into the year. I’d say that’s always one of the main goals for sure coming into a Ryder Cup year. Even in the off year, you’re thinking about it,” he said. “You’d be lying if you’re saying there’s not more (pressure). Yeah, I’m thinking about it. The other guys are thinking about it. So if it’s even on your mind at all, not that it’s pressure in a way, but it’s more to think about.”

They’re comments that likely garner a hearty fist pump from American fans desperate to celebrate a victory in the biennial event, and they certainly don’t hurt his cause for a potential captain’s pick from Love. But they also reinforce the fact that Fowler has a tendency to deliver when the margin for error is the slimmest.

There was the late birdie run to win The Players last year, then the emphatic 72nd-hole approach in Scotland and the late chip-in earlier this year in Abu Dhabi. Some guys wilt under the bright lights, but Fowler appears to seek out their warmth.

“I think he’s always responded to pressure situations down the stretch, and a little bit of sense of urgency,” said caddie Joe Skovron.

The recent results have been even more frustrating for Fowler simply because the culprit has been so clear. The ball-striking that has made him an elite player remains ever-present, but a balky putter has simply failed to cooperate.

There have been spurts where it all came together, sure. Fowler started well at Baltusrol, and he notably spun a front-nine 29 during the third round of the Olympics. But the consistency required to turn nine holes into 18, or to turn one round into four, has evaporated.

“It’s been tough. I mean, personally, me knowing exactly how close it is, and it’s a really fine line,” he said. “The difference between Rio Saturday and Sunday, I swung it better going out on Sunday, and I shoot 29 on Saturday and I’m over par (on Sunday). I can’t remember what I shot, but it was not 29.”

Even just last week in Greensboro, Fowler hit 60 of 72 greens in regulation but never factored and didn’t shoot lower than 67 on the par-70 layout.

It’s a cautionary tale that could still apply to this week’s outcome, but Fowler has been fervent in his belief that his game has not been as far off as the results indicate. A Tuesday session with putting guru Paul Vizanko, with whom Fowler has worked since he was 14, paved the way for a 28-putt performance in the opening round.

“It’s close,” Fowler said. “I hit a lot of good putts today, some were just mis-reads. It was nice to make a couple and get off to a solid start.”

Love said last week at Sedgefield that he wants hot hands on his 12-man squad, hoping to head to Hazeltine with as much momentum as possible. But he’ll also be looking for players who are able to handle the heat one of golf’s biggest stages, calm their nerves and put forth a strong performance when it matters the most.

Consider Thursday’s round a gentle nudge from Fowler to Love, a reminder that he just might be the right man to suit up and deliver next month.

“I think the Ryder Cup speaks for itself. It’s the greatest team event we have. It’s arguably the best event we have all year, or every two years,” Fowler said. “It’s a special event and something I don’t want to miss out on.”

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.